Sheriff’s union votes no to proposed contract

Franklin County and its sheriff’s office employees have failed to reach a compromise, again.

A contractual agreement between the county and the United Public Service Employees Union, which represents sheriff’s office employees, such as deputies and jail guards, was not ratified in a vote by union members last week. The decision was not unanimous – it was shot down by a margin of 10 votes.

The vote followed the third mediated meeting between county officials and the UPSEU this year.

“The mediator tried to work out something that could work for both sides,” UPSEU labor relations representative Phil Sedlock said. “The union has no problem with what the members decided.”

The county and the sheriff’s office have been at odds since 2011, when county legislators revoked a 3-percent pay raise union members expected. The union members are still working under the 2011 contract.

County Manager Tom Leitz told the Enterprise he was shocked the recent contract was shot down. It included a 2 percent raise retroactive to Aug. 21, another 2 percent raise next year and a 2.5 percent raise in 2015. It also included additional hazard pay of 20 cents an hour, also retroactive to Aug. 21. That incentive would have increased to 30 cents next year and gone to 35 cents in 2015.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but if your average employee averages 2,000 hours a year, that’s $600,” Leitz said.

Including hazard pay, the package amounted to a pay increase totaling 3 percent in 2013, 4 percent in 2014 and 4 percent in 2015, Leitz said.

Leitz said he was reluctant to bring the agreement to the county board of Legislators because the raises would have exceeded the tax cap set by the state.

Sedlock said the biggest problem with the contract is that it doesn’t bring the sheriff’s staff up to par with other county employees or include longevity pay. He explained that county employees represented by the UPSEO are divided into two groups.

“There’s a big unit of about 420, and then there’s this unit of 66,” Leitz said. “All those other workers, regardless of what their positions are, received a 2 percent raise last January. Our group is only being offered wages from Aug. 21 on.”

The county also wants the sheriff’s employees to sign up for the same health insurance plan other county employees receive. That would raise health insurance co-pays, something Sedlock said probably affected the union members’ decision.

“Our problem is, regardless of the reasons why it failed, we continue to spend a lot of money on health insurance for those members,” Leitz said. “Within the contract there are changes to the health plan, and we don’t think those changes harm members at all.”

Leitz added that cutting costs in some areas is the only way the contract can include raises.

The contract also included room for the sheriff to hire more employees, but it’s contingent upon him cutting overtime. In the contract, the sheriff’s budget contains funding for $2.6 million. The request from the sheriff for next year was $2.79 million.

“In essence what I’m saying is, the sheriff has the additional staff added this year, and he actually has additional per-diem staff compared to his predecessor, so I believe we’re at that tipping point where additional staff can be paid for through reductions in overtime,” Leitz said. “Dollar-for-dollar overtime reduction should be something we can accomplish.”

Sedlock said staffing issues do not involve the union and are between the sheriff and county legislators.

Since the third mediated session failed to produce a compromise, the next step is fact finding. Both sides will put in written arguments for what they think they should get and a state Public Employee Relations Board employee, or fact finder, will write out a settlement agreement, which both sides vote on.

If that is rejected by either side, the county can impose a “year of zero,” which would end the process until next year.

Right now 2012 is still part of the package, so if a year of zero happens, 2012 would be replaced by 2013 the next go-around.